risk factors

Abdominal fat at middle age associated with greater risk of dementia

July, 2010

More evidence that excess abdominal fat, independent of your overall BMI, places otherwise healthy, middle-aged people at greater risk for dementia later in life.

A study involving 733 participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort (average age 60) provides more evidence that excess abdominal fat places otherwise healthy, middle-aged people at greater risk for dementia later in life. The study also confirms that a higher BMI (body mass index) is associated with lower brain volumes in both older and middle-aged adults. However the association between visceral fat and total brain volume was independent of BMI. Visceral fat differs from subcutaneous fat in that it is buried deeper, beneath the muscles, around the organs. While it can only be seen by CT imaging, a pot belly or thick waist suggests its presence. For women (who become particularly vulnerable to this after menopause), a waistline above 88 cm is regarded as signaling a dangerous amount of visceral fat. Regular vigorous exercise, and consumption of polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats, is recommended.

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Looking after a spouse with dementia greatly increases your own risk of dementia

July, 2010

A long-running study has revealed that caring for a spouse with dementia is as strong a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's as having the 'Alzheimer's gene'.

A 12-year study involving 1,221 married couples ages 65 or older (part of the Cache County (Utah) Memory Study) has revealed that husbands or wives who care for spouses with dementia are six times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s themselves than those whose spouses don't have it. The increased risk is of comparable size to having the ‘Alzheimer's gene’. The researchers speculate that the great stress of caregiving might be responsible for the increased dementia risk, emphasizing the need for greater caregiver support.

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[1583] Norton, M. C., Smith K. R., Østbye T., Tschanz JA. T., Corcoran C., Schwartz S., et al.
(2010).  Greater Risk of Dementia When Spouse Has Dementia? The Cache County Study.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 58(5), 895 - 900.

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Alzheimer's expressed differently in carriers and noncarriers of the Alzheimer’s gene

July, 2010
  • A new study reveals that having the 'Alzheimer's gene' doesn't simply increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's, but affects how the brain is damaged.

A comprehensive study reveals how the ‘Alzheimer's gene’ (APOE ε4) affects the nature of the disease. It is not simply that those with the gene variant tend to be more impaired (in terms of both memory loss and brain damage) than those without. Different parts of the brain (and thus different functions) tend to be differentially affected, depending on whether the individual is a carrier of the gene or not. Carriers displayed significantly greater impairment on tests of memory retention, while noncarriers were more impaired on tests of working memory, executive control, and lexical access. Consistent with this, carriers showed greater atrophy in the mediotemporal lobe, and noncarriers greater atrophy in the frontoparietal area. The findings have implications both for diagnosis and treatment.

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